Puritanism And The Theatre

By Brendan Clifford

PART ONE:—A Wanton Dissipation Of Spirit.

The aims of the English Revolution of the 1640s were vast but indefinite. There was amongst the participants in that revolution a consensus at the level of feelings and of vague ideas about what should be done. But, when an opportunity unexpectedly presented itself for doing it, and definite forms had to be established and specific arrangements made, the movement fell into internal conflict.

The revolution is a period of nineteen or twenty years, bounded by monarchy at either end. Within that period all is in flux. To establish a theocracy is the common purpose of all, but there is little agreement about what a Scriptural theocracy would look like. The hard core of Presbyterians thought it would be a kind of reverse democracy in which a central body of elders commanded a devolving apparatus of committees ending up with Parish committees—something like the Soviet system as shaped by Lenin. The Independents did not know what it should look like, except that it should not look like the Presbyterian system. Many, like Russians who wanted the market, imagined that, once the obstacle of traditional authority was removed, it would materialise of its own accord, and were surprised when it didn’t.

Later generations of radicals looking backwards for inspiration could read pretty much what they wished into the flux of that Revolution. The Marxists early on took it as their own special stamping ground. During the past thirty years they have published a whole library of books and articles about it.

Now, amidst all the confusion of the revolution in the matter of specific aims and achievement, there was one specific aim on which all were agreed, and that aim was achieved. And yet, later generations of writers—and the Marxists most of all—have averted their eyes from that achieved aim: the abolition of theatre. It is tacitly assumed that this was an extraneous matter which by some accident got attached to Puritanism, and that the abolition and subsequent restoration of the theatre were of little or no social consequence.

I had long been aware of the isolated fact that the theatre was abolished in the 1640s and that it was restored in marvelously abandoned form in the 1660s. I expected that I would have the social context of that fact explained to me by Christopher Hill, or one of the many other Marxists specialising in the Civil War and Commonwealth. But, although I read as much about the period as the next man, the abolition of the theatre remained an isolated fact in my mind.

Around 1960, in the course of idle reading, and before the possibility that I might be reduced to writing history myself had crossed my mind, I came across a remark either made by Cromwell, or by somebody else summarising his views, that acting was a wanton dissipation of the human spirit. This was possibly in Carlyle, whom I got accustomed to reading in the fifties in rural Munster. I am not a dissenter by inclination, so I have not read Carlyle much since then. It is decreed that he is passé, that he is over and done with, and I do my best to conform with what is authoritatively decreed. Unfortunately, my understanding sometimes refuses to comply with my inclinations and I end up dissenting more fundamentally than dissenters by vocation ever do.

Carlyle made more sense to me about the English Revolution when I read him casually than the Marxist scholars did when I read them methodically. He said in Heroes And Hero Worship that the object of the English Revolution was theocracy, and the pamphlets through which that revolution developed leave no room for doubt that it was. And the description of acting as wanton dissipation of human spirit was something I found unforgettable.

I have one experience of attempting to act. It happened at Unity Theatre in Camden about thirty years ago, when Camden Town was working class and Irish. Unity was an amateur socialist theatre. I don't know if it was founded by the Communist Party, but it was then run by it. It is a couple of hundred yards from an Institution called the Working Men's College. I went to the Working Men's College to see what it was about, and found that it was a hobby for millionaires and their retainers. But I happened to go there at the same moment as a score of other Camden Town Irish, and for a couple of years we were an alien working class intrusion into the Working Men's College. Some of the others were in the Communist Party, and through the Party had become involved in Unity Theatre.

Around 1960, Unity decided to put on a dramatised version of Joyce's Ulysses, called Bloomsday. As I recall, the sets were designed by Seán Kenny, who later made his mark in the commercial theatre, and Patrick Galvin (who made a bit of a name for himself soon after) was also around Unity then. The producer wanted lots of Irish for bit parts and I was dragged along to audition.

I had no ambition to be an actor, but I thought I'd see what it was like. I had one line to say. When it came to saying it, I found myself completely at a loss. It had not occurred to me until that moment that there was anything problematical about acting. Then I found all of a sudden that it was infinitely problematical. It was something I could not do at all.

I think I had to ask a question about a bet. In real life if I had the same question to ask I would just ask it. I would want to ask it, and the asking would just happen. But this wasn't real life. And whatever it is that goes on in people's heads when they act wasn't going on in mine.

When I want a sip of tea I reach for the cup, put it to my lips and swallow. It just happens. I don't have to programme the mechanics of these very complex actions. The problem I found in asking a simple question by way of acting struck me as of a kind with the problem one would have in programming oneself as if one were a robot to take a sip of tea.

The incident made me curious about what goes on in an actor's head when he acts. But, though I have asked many actors about it, I am no wiser at the end than at the beginning. Most of the actors I have known I knew when they were 'resting', and therefore down and out. They were lost souls—souls in Limbo waiting for something to happen. And their misfortune was not so much that they were impoverished, as that they did not know who they were. They were between parts and resembled blank spaces waiting to be filled. I have known only one actor who was at the same time indisputably a person in his own right.

A few of the people who were recruited to do one-liners in Bloomsday took to the business of acting and tried to make a living at it. A couple of them succeeded in a small way. Both of them were Communist Party members, and were from Belfast. I knew them quite well prior to Bloomsday. I was not in the Party myself, but they treated me as a fellow-traveller who had certain uses. One of them was an electrician who often worked in the film studios—which was the plum job in the electrician's trade. He had therefore observed acting at close quarters as a detached observer. He had worked on a film that included Sophia Loren, and was greatly taken by her as something real in a world of affectation and pretension. He lamented that there was not some other way she could be known to the world than through films. But as he began to be an actor he moulded himself on the artificiality of the world he had despised as an electrician, and conversation with him soon became impossible.

The other of these people was the more successful of the two. He was, like me, a building worker with an elemental class outlook on life. He was not such a good actor as the other, but he was adopted into the entourage of a famous film star and appeared in many of his films, and made some television adverts. He quickly moved far beyond my range. I have encountered him only once in the past twenty-five years. I was street-sweeping in a leafy Hampstead square about fifteen years ago. He came out of a front door and stood there for a moment to breathe the late morning air. The front door was a dozen steps above street level, and I chanced to be on the pavement at the bottom of the steps. I said Hello D—, and left the rest up to him. I leave it to the upwardly mobile to cope with the embarrassments of upward mobility. He coped by looking sheepish, putting a slim briefcase under a burly, but fashionably clothed, arm, muttering some phrase dredged up from a previous existence, and scurrying off to wonderland.

Now, I have nothing against wonderland. Theatre and its derivatives are necessary to modern civilisation. Real life becomes so interwoven with the make-believe of the stage that the distinction between the two is increasingly difficult to make in the Anglo-Saxon world.

I lived until the age of twenty-one in a society in which theatre was a diversion. A play was put on every year by local people, mainly small farmers. Twice a year a touring company put on plays for a week. At first a touring company came for a week a couple of times a year, and later a local entrepreneur showed a film once a week. In those circumstances, the distinction between actual life and representation of life was clear, and the representation was marginal and exotic.

I'm sure that the acting in the locally produced play was appalling and that it was not a great deal better in the touring companies. That is to say, life was not very realistically counterfeited. But that was not noticed because the need for a realistic counterfeiting of life was not felt. Ham acting served the purpose perfectly well. People did not go to the theatre to see ordinary life realistically portrayed. They lived ordinary lives without the assistance of plays, and lived it interestingly. They went to the theatre to see something unusual, such as Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. They went to see melodramas, not to learn the art of living. The art of living was transmitted by other means.

When I went to London in the late fifties I could see that acting had a very different function in society there. And that function has expanded enormously since then. The representation of life by actors is in great part the means by wheich the art of living is transmitted. The reality has come to depend on the counterfeit. The counterfeit has ceased to be a melodramatic diversion.

In the atomised mass society of contemporary England, the spontaneous course of life no longer runs. Puritanism has done its work thoroughly—the finishing touch having been given to that work by Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council in collaboration with the first Puritan Tory, Margaret Thatcher. When Mrs. Thatcher made her notorious remark that there is no such thing as society, only individual men and women and their families, whe was describing an actual state of affairs. The only doubtful thing about it is whether the family can still be said to exist in England. The deluge of child sex abuse cases shows it to be in a very sick condition, if half of what the social workers say is true, and, even if what they say is entirely untrue, the fact that they can say it and that prosecuting bodies are predisposed to act on their statements shows that the family has become a suspect institution.

In Canon Sheehan's semi-autobiographical novel, Luke Delmege, the central character, a priest, is sent to a parish in England as his first job. The contrast between the sociable individual in Munster and the atomised English individual strikes him forcibly. He wonders how human life is possible in English social—or asocial—conditions. And he concludes that each individual carries his entire world with him in his head, and has therefore little need of overt social contact:

"It was this cool indifference that smote the senses of Luke most keenly. For a long time he could not frame a word to express it, as it appeared to him. Then he tumbled on what he afterwards regarded as the strongest characteristic of this English people—their surprising 'individualism'. For while the unit was nothing in this seething turmoil of millions, the individual was everything to himself. Society might ignore him, despise him, calculate him; but he, understanding this, went his own way, unheeding and indifferent—a solitary in this awful desert of teeming human life. Everywhere it was the same. Whilst all around the splendid materialism of England asserted and showed itself…each solitary individual walked his way alone…It was a huge piece of perfect and polished mechanism." (Chapter IX)

I came across a German viewpoint on this when investigating the causes of the first World War. General von Bernhardi was the ogre of British war propaganda. So I read Bernhardi, and found him a very interesting writer.

When British ruling circles—with Erskine Childers to the fore—decided that Germany would have to be made war upon, they constructed a caricature of the German—or of the Prussian, whose character was declared to be infecting the whole of Germany under the new German state—as a detestable and despicable hate-figure for the new British democracy. Everyone will be familiar with the caricature—the German likes to be regimented and to obey orders, and is exceptionally efficient to the extent that regimentation produces efficiency, but English character ultimately produces a higher efficiency because of the capacity for individual initiative which it develops.

This characterisation of 'the German' is the converse of the truth. But it was not intended to be true. One did not need to know a great deal about military and industrial affairs to see that it was the German who displayed a capacity for individual initiative at the lower levels of the army and the factory, while the English formed a mass under a hierarchy. But, though it was untrue, it was superb war propaganda. And it was greatly admired by Hitler, who sang its praises in Mein Kampf.

Bernhardi thought that a war with Britain was likely, because Britain, the greatest Empire the world had ever seen, would not stand idly by while Germany grew in power. In the decade prior to 1914, he published a number of books for the purpose of explaining Britain, and British foreign policy, to the Germans. His aim was to explain, not to caricature.

In one of these books he explained that the English were not highly individualised like the Germans, but existed in a number of social stereotypes. Individuality began to give way to type, he says, in the middle of the 17th century.

"At present individualism is certainly not as strong in England as it is in Germany. England creates types, not individuals, and the individual subordinates itself to the type. In England the political instinct and race instinct are far more strongly developed and are more general than in Germany and national and political aims are in harmony. While in Germany the elements of culture are richer and are far more highly and more widely developed than in England, England has developed a far greater political power which is based upon the unity of the national will." (This is from Unsere Zukunft: Ein Mahnwort an das deutsche Volk (1912)—Our Future—A Word Of Warning To The German Nation.)

It was published in English translation shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914, but the title was changed to Britain As Germany's Vassal. The publisher claimed that this was a more accurate title for the content of the book. In fact, it was a travesty designed to inflame race hatred, but no English reviewer was going to say that. The British intelligentsia, with only individual exceptions, agreed in the first week of August 1914 to tell whopping great lies about Germany, thus demonstrating the accuracy of Bernhardi's observation. Bernhardi's title is perfectly accurate. He warned the Germans that they were living in a fool's paradise if they imagined that England would not use its military power to prevent them from consolidating their position as its equal. And he urged them to be less individualist and to emulate the English social quality of regimentation.

These observations by Sheehan and Bernhardi seem spot on to me. And those features of English life seem to be connected with the enormous expansion of the social role of the theatre in England. The atomised Englishman, having little in the way of spontaneous social culture to frolic in, locates himself by conforming to a type. Society is then an aggregation of types. And what theatre does best is depict the interaction of types. (Sheehan and Bernhardi use the word 'individualism' to mean different, indeed opposite, things, but I think their meaning is clear. For Sheehan, the Englishman is individualised as a cog in a machine. For Bernhardi, he lacks individuality because he does not live in a fluid and complex personal interaction with others.)

Theatre was abolished by Parliament on September 2nd, 1642 and it stayed abolished until the Restoration in 1660. The Restoration theatre revelled in extremes of libertinism and took a delight in horrifying the Puritans. The Puritans beavered away at the foundations of society for the next century and a half, while the libertine aristocracy enacted the Revolution of 1688 and established the political procedures of liberal government. The re-emergence of Puritanism as a political force began with the 1832 Reform, but it was greatly modified by the continuing influence of liberal aristocratic politics. After 1688, the Puritans gave up on the aim of abolishing the theatre—at least I have come across no pamphlets making that demand—and merely aimed to clean it up and make it moral. But, around 1980, Ken Livingstone and Margaret Thatcher abolished Soho.

From the late Elizabethan period until some time in the present century, the Puritan strain in English society made this equation: actors = vagabonds and courtesans. In the course of the 20th century, as real life came increasingly to depend on theatrical representation of life, actors began to acquire the status of priests. At the same time courtesans suffered a great decline in moral status.

Consider this problem—which is to the point: If it is immoral to be a courtesan, how can it be moral to play a courtesan in the manner of modern realistic acting?

As morality stands at the moment, it is highly immoral for a woman to engage in actual sexual intercourse either before the cameras or before a live audience, but it is moral for a woman to give an entirely realistic theatrical performance of engaging in sexual intercourse either before the cameras or a live audience. I have heard the matter discussed by experts on television, and that is what they said. Actual sexual response is not art, but the acting of it is art, and art is sacred. Even Mary Whitehouse has conceded that point in principle, and when condemning some particular representation of sexual activity she is reduced to quibbling about context.

I heard a radio interview on a woman's programme with an actress who in one of her plays had acted sexual intercourse. That this was an entirely proper thing for her to have done was beyond question. But she made the interesting observation that, after she had acted the part on stage a few times, she began to feel when doing it for real at home in bed that there was something missing. And, after puzzling over this for a while, she realised that what was missing was the audience.

Of course she just had to resign herself to not having an audience when doing it for real, otherwise she would have become a very improper person. But, in order to act it without doing it, she must have given the matter deep thought, and must somehow or other have contrived to observe it being done. The moral chasm between acting and doing therefore seemed to me to be established on a rather fine distinction.

Perhaps it was because my own utter inability to act set off this kind of reflection about acting that I found the writings of "William Prynne our unreadable friend" instantly readable. The words were written by Carlyle, who described Prynne's magnum opus as "a Book still extant, but never more to be read by mortal".

The book in question is Histrio-Mastix, which is the biggest pamphlet I have ever seen, being over a thousand pages long. Maybe I would not have read it if I had first read that it was unreadable. But I came across it when rummaging in the British Museum for Puritan material on the theatre. Having never heard of it. I knew no better than to read it. And I found it a worthy culmination of the Puritan writing on the theatre that had been going on for half a century prior to its appearance.

Once Histrio-Mastix was published, the case against the theatre had been so comprehensively stated that there was no more to be said. And as far as I know nothing more was said.

The actual abolition of the theatre in September 1642—very early in the Civil War when all Puritans were still together—was not accompanied by any pamphlets that I have found. In those times, everything that was disputable amongst Puritans was vigorously disputed. Since the propriety of suppressing the theatre was not disputed, it follows that it was generally regarded as indisputable. It was self-evident that the continuing existence of the theatre was incompatible with Puritan liberty, as in 1922 in Ireland it was self-evident that the Catholic Church should have hegemony over the new national state. There is no English literature in 1642 about the theatre, and no Irish literature in 1922 about Church/State relations, even though something extraordinary happened with regard to Church/State relations in Ireland in 1922.

William Prynne, "an Utter-Barrester of Lincolnes Inne", as he described himself in the title page of Histrio-Mastix, was one of the earliest heroes of the English Revolution. On publication of the pamphlet in 1633, Prynne "was brought to Starchamber; to the Pillory, and had his ears cropt off, for the first time" (Carlyle). He was sentenced to imprisonment for life specifically for publishing Histrio-Mastix, and he spent eight years there, until he was freed by the Revolution in 1641. And his life in prison was not uneventful. I quote Carlyle again:

"On the 30th of June 1637, in Old placeyard, three men, gentlemen of education, of good quality, a Barrister, a Physician and a Parish Clergyman of London were set on three Pillories; stood openly, as the scum of malefactors, for certain hours there; and had their ears cut off—bare knives, hot branding-irons—and their cheeks stamped 'S.L.', Seditious Libeller…the men were our old friend William Prynne—poor Prynne, who had got into new trouble, and lost his ears a second and final time, having had them 'sewed on again' before: William Prynne, Barrister; Dr. John Bastwick; and the Rev. Henry Burton, Minister of Friday-street Church. Their sin was against Laud and his surplices at Allhallowtide…Prynne's ears the executioner 'rather sawed than cut'. 'Cut me, tear me', cried Prynne; 'I fear thee not; I fear the fire of Hell, not thee'."

Prynne lost his ears the second time for publishing a criticism of Archbishop Laud while in prison. From 1637 to 1641 he was held in close confinement and prevented from writing. And then he emerged victorious from prison, somewhat like Felix Dzherhinsky in Russia in 1917, and set about chastising the persecuting powers of the old regime. Parliament gave him one of the plum trials to prosecute, that of Archbishop Laud himself, and he sent Laud into eternity.

Though Prynne suffered for his principles and then inflicted suffering for them, he was far from being an extremist. He was a middle of the road Puritan, who did not approve of the execution fo the King, who suffered imprisonment again under Cromwell, and who had some part in effecting the Restoration. We are not here dealing with eccentricity on the lunatic fringe.

Histrio-Mastix is subtitled:

"The Players Scourge, Or, Actors Tragedie, Wherein it is largely evidenced…That popular Stage-playes (the very Pompes of the Divell which we renounce in Baptisme, if we believe the Fathers) are sinfull, heathenish, lewde, ungodly Spectacles, and most pernicious Corruptions…"

Prynne promises an exhaustive and systematic treatment of the subject:

"My authorities doe marshall themselves into severall Squadrons: the first, consisting of Scriptures; the second, of the whole Primitive Church, both under the Law, and Gospel: the third, of Councells and Canonicall, or Papall Constitutions: the fourth, of the ancient godly Fathers: the fifth, of Moderne Christian writers of all sors, as well divines, as others: the sixth, of Heathen Philosophers, Orators, Historians, and Poets; the last, of the Acts, and Edicts of sundry Christian, and Heathen States, and Emperors. All of which, accompanied with the irrefragable; and pleine defeates of those pretences, which give any colourable justification to these Theatricall Interludes; will give no doubt a fatall, if not a finall overthrow, or Catastrophe to Playes, and Actors, whose dismall Tragoedie doth now begin" (p. 8/9).

He argues that the theatre is idolatrous, obscene and vain. Its manner of action is by hypocrisy, obscenity, effeminacy, and extreme vanity. Its pernicious effects are waste of time, waste of money that might be spent on charity, inflamed lust, adultery, depravation of minds and manners of both actors and audience, idleness, drunkenness, shamelessness, fraudulence, cruelty, profanity, irreligion, antipathy to pious men, disinclination to repentance, effeminacy, ungodly company, Atheism and Idolatry, breach of all the Commandments, the wrath of God, and eternal damnation.

I don't see how a Christian defence of the theatre against Prynne's indictment of it is possible. The founders of the Christian Church tried to abolish it when they were establishing the Church in Roman times and failed. The Roman Church then adapted in practice to the survival of the theatre without ever approving of it in principle. Then Protestantism, making its great effort to complete the work which Rome had despaired of completing, took the abolition of theatre as its first object. I do not think that all those powerful Christian minds which pitted themselves against the theatre had failed to read the Scriptures right.

(Luther, the founder of Protestantism, is the exception. Christianity is Puritan as it develops out of itself.—By Christianity I mean of course the religion founded by St. Paul.—Insofar as it is not Puritan, it is admixed with something else. Luther was a German and a Christian in more or less equal parts, so he could write:

Wer liebt nicht Wein und Weib und Gesang
Bliebt er ein Narr das Leben lang

which is to say; unless you like women, wine and song, you'll stay a fool your whole life long.)

Prynne gives the Waldenses of Southern France—who were wiped out by a Roman Catholic Crusade—as one of his authorities:

"The Waldenses and Albigenses in their Censure of Dancing have unanimously professed and published this truth to all the world…a Dance (as I find their wordes in their Treatise against Dancing) is the Devil's procession…As many paces as a man maketh in Dancing, so many paces doth he make to Hell" (p. 229).

There is a pre-Reformation English treatise against plays, written at the end of the 14th. century. I take it to be a Lollard view—the Lollards or Wycliffites being precursors of the Puritans. And this is a treatise against Miracle Plays, "a tretise of miraclis pleyinge" (as it described itself in a language which is about nine-tenths of the way towards English). The Miracle Plays were a far cry from the revived Roman theatre of the late Elizabethan and Stuart period. They depicted scenes from the Gospels and were intended as exhortations to Christian living. The case against them in this treatise is that they subvert Christian belief by doing in mummery what was once only done in earnest.

It says (amending it into present-day English) that Christ and his saints through miracles brought sinful men to forgiveness, setting them in the way of right belief, steadfastness and charity:

"Then since the miracles of Christ and his saints were thus effectual, as by our belief we are certain, no man should use in jest ['bourde'] and play the miracles and works that Christ so earnestly wrought to our help; for whoever does so, he errs in belief, reverses Christ, and scorns God. He errs in belief, in that he takes the most precious works of God in play and jest, and so takes his name idly, and so misuses our belief. Ah! Lord! since an earthly servant dare not take in playe and in jest that that her earthly lord takes in earnest, much more we should not make play and jest of the miracles and works of God so earnestly wrought to us; for surely when we do so, dread of sin is taken away, as a servant when he jests with his master lessens his dread of offending him…And right as a nail driven in holds two things together, so dread driven Godwards holds and sustains our belief to him…

"And since miracle playing is of the lust of the flesh and the pleasure of the body, no man may effectually hear it and the voice of Christ at once."

Miracle Plays stir people to lechery and gluttony and make them indosposed to patience. Theatre is a device of Anti-Christ:

"And if a man ask what recreation men should have on the holiday after their holy contemplation in the Churche, we say to him two things, one, that if he had truly occupied himself in contemplation before, he would neither ask that question nor have a will to such vanity; another, we say that his recreation should be in the works of mercy to his neighbour, and in delighting himself in all good communication with his neighbour, as before he delighted himself in God…

"But perhaps here you say, that if playing of miracles be sinning, never the less it is but a little sin. But, dear friend, know that each sin, be it never so little, if it be maintained and preached as good and profitable, is deadly sin; and therefore saith the prophet, Woe to them that say good is evil, and evil good! and therefore the wise man damns them who are glad when they do evil; and therefore all the saints say, that it is human to fall but devilish to remain contentedly fallen. Therefore since miracle playing is a sin…and is steadfastly maintained, and also men delight in it , there is no doubt that it is deadly sin, and damnable, devilish not human. Lord, since Adam and Eve and all mankind were damned out of paradise, not only for eating the apple, but more for excusing it, how much more is the playing of miracles, which is not only excused but steadfastly maintained, damnable and deadly, since it not only perverts one man, but all the people to say good is evil and evil good."

The essential point here is that the representation by mummery of unique events enacted by God for the purpose of raising belief in men has the effect of trivialising belief, and that it is a form of idolatry which displaces the word of God and weakens its force. I do not think that point can be disputed. Christian belief has seeped away to such an extent that it is not now the actual medium of thought of any people, and playacting was certainly a major avenue of seepage. Islam forbade the playacting of religion and preserved the word of God as a word. And in the Islamic world belief still flourishes as a medium of thought.

Prynne agrees with the Lollard treatise with regard to the playing of religion. But miracle playing had long ceased to be a problem by his time. In fact, the playing of religion on the stage was forbidden by law as a matter of public order in the time of Elizabeth. Religion had become the central subject of political contention and therefore had to be kept off the stage.

England under Henry VIII was jsut about to become the Defender of the Faith against Luther when the marriage problem arose and it broke with Rome instead. Henry tried to have Catholicism amended only to exclude the Pope. There was intensive Protestantism under Edward. Then there was an attempt at a Counter-Reformationist Crusade by Mary. When Elizabeth began her long reign, England did not know exactly what its Faith was, and there was widespread consent to let sleeping dogs lie. That was when the Renaissance came to England. And it was chiefly in the form of the theatre that it came.

After discarding two straitjackets, Edward's and Mary's, England dashed off in all directions. And a wide range of conceivable ways of life began to be represented on the stage.

If the problem for the Lollard preacher was that the Miracle Plays subverted what they represented, the problem for Prynne and his predecessors was the opposite one: the Elizabethan theatre represented anti-Christian ways of life in a way that gave those ways of life circulation amongst the people of England.

Prynne charges the theatre with hypocrisy, which now seems an inadequate word for what he means:

"If we seriously consider the very forme of acting Playes, we must needes acknowledge it to be nought else but grosse hypocrisie. All things are counterfeit, feined, dissembled; nothing really or sincerely acted. Players are always counterfeiting, representing the persons, habits, offices, callings parts, conditions, speeches, actions, lives; the passions, the affections, the anger, hatred, cruelty, love, revenge, dissentions; yea, the very vices, sinnes and lusts; the adulteries, incests, rapes, murthers, tyrannies, thefts, and such like crimes of other men, of other sexes, of other creatures; yea, oft-times of the Divell himself, and Pagan Divell—gods. They are always acting others, not themselves…

"If any here object: That the acting of Playes is no hypocrisie, no dissimulation, it being only done in sport, in imitation, with no sinister intent at all, to hurt, to cheate, or circumvent men.

"I answer; First, that admit it but a mere imitation of other men's persons, parts and vices, yet it must be sinfull: because the very imitation of wicked men, of Pagans, of Idols, of Idolaters, especially in their lewdest wickednesses (the most usual subject of our Enterludes) is without all question evill, as Scriptures plainly teach us [numerous Scriptural references are given here]…Secondly, I answer, that by the feining used in our Stage-playes, many of our Spectators are deceived, all cheated…Cheated, with shadows instead of substance: with sinfull, heathenish, unchristian spectacles, in place of honest recreations…Thirdly, admit that no man were cheated, or prejudiced by that counterfeiting, which accompanies the acting of all Stage-playes; yet the mere acting of the persons, parts, gestures, offices, actions, passions; especially of the Sexes, Vices, Anger, Furie, Love, Revenge and Villainies of other men, be it in sport, in representation onely, is hypocrisie. For what else is hypocrisie in the proper signification of the word, but acting of another's part or person on the stage" (p. 156/158).

As to the effects of representation:

"Doe not the wanton gestures; the amorous kisses, meretricious songs and speeches; the lascivious whorish Actions; the beautifull faces; the ravishing Musicke, the flexanimous enticements, the witty obscenities, the rhetoricall passages, the adulterous representations, with all the other fomentations of uncleanness in the Play-house…even raise a tempest of unchaste affectations; yea, kindle a very hill of lusts within your soules?…Havethey not caused you to looke upon Whores and Strumpets, upon beautifull comely women with a lustfull eye, and so to commit, if not actuall yet contemplative adultery with them in your hearts, either more or lesse" (p. 374/375).

He quotes St. John Chrysostom as follows:

"For if he who without those provocations seeth a woman, is yet notwithstanding drawne sometimes to lust after her, and commits adultery only by lusting; he who not only seeth, but likewise earnestly beholds a naked and lascivious woman with his whole minde, how is he not a thousand times made the captive of lust" (p. 410).

Chrysostom describes plays as "the subversion of life". He does not even discuss the notion that an actress presenting herself lasciviously to an audience is a respectable woman and is 'only acting'. That notion must not have been thought of then. But he considers the idea that, since the actress is only a harlot, and not a respectable woman, the thing is not too bad. And he deals with that idea in a way that reminds one of some feminist propaganda of recent times:

"…if adultery it selfe be evill, doubtlesse the imitation of it must be evill…For there is nothing more filthy, nothing more lascivious than that eye, that can patiently, that I say not willingly, behold such things. Moreover what a thing is this, that when as thou wilt not so much as looke upon a naked woman in the street, yea nor yet at home…that yet when thou goes up to the Play-house, that thou maiest violate the chastity of both sexes, and maiest likewise incestuously defile thine own eyes, thou believest that no dishonest thing befalls thee? For thou canst not say thus, that she is an harlot that is uncovered; because it is nature it selfe, and there is the same body of an whore, and of a free woman" (p. 406).

And here is Prynne in his own voice:

"…our moderne Play-Poets doe not only record and publish to posterity in their lascivious Enterludes the execrable lewd examples of our present Age…but likewise dive into oblivion's deepest Lethe resuscitating those obsolete putred wickednesses of former ages…lest present and future times should be so happy as…to forget them…O therefore let Stage-Players perish, yea, forever perish…O let those filthy Enterludes, those shameless Actors, who feare not to display those shamefull workes of darknesse in the sight of thousands on the open Theater…be ever execrable to all pious Christians…The Scriptures, Fathers, two famous Councels…have utterly condemned the making, the beholding of all obscene lascivious pictures…And shall not those lively, if not reall pictures and representations of the adulteries, rapes, incests, Love-prankes, murthers, treasons, and other such practises of Pagan Idols, which are so artificially acted on the Stage, that a man can hardly difference the representations of them from the sinnes themselves, be much more liable to condemnation…? Doubtlesse, if the substance be evill, the shadow of it cannot be good…All sinnes…are detestably evill in themselves, therefore the personating, the imitation of them on the Stage, the characterising of them in their freshest colours in our Theatrical Poems, must needs be sinfull, yea, abominable, unto all good Christians" (p. 93/94).

To the objection that Virtue is also represented in plays, he makes the perfectly accurate reply that it appears only as a foil for Vice:

"…sinne is the primary, adequate and most proper subject of the Play, virtue, a Parenthesis only in the by: Sinne is the Mistresse, Virtue but the Handmaid, which occasionally sometimes attends it" (p. 97).

Vice often appears alone, he says, while Virtue never does. And anyhow it is only pagan virtue that is represented.

Such is the case for the prosecution. In the concluding part of the article, I will review some articles in defence of the theatre, published following the Restoration. But those articles do not meet the prosecution case. And they had no need to meet it. After 1660, the theatre was established beyond the reach of the Puritans by the power of the counter-revolutionary state. It had no need of defenders.

In my opinion, the prosecution case is unanswerable within its terms of reference, that is, within the parameters of Christianity, taken in earnest.

The English Revolution was above all else a Christian revolution. Its object was to establish comprehensively the social conditions for Christian life. All the matter which fascinates the Marxists was incidental to the breakdown of the old state.

If a Puritan state had been consolidated, the abolition of the theatre would have become a permanent feature of social life in England, Scotland and Ireland. And who can say how much that would have influenced the history of Europe and the world?

The Marxist pedants have raked over the 1640s and 1650s with a fine-tooth comb in search of economic determinants, and I think most of them have now admitted failure. But, if I were obliged to choose one element of social life as the determinant of general development during the past three and a half centuries, I would choose the theatre.

The Puritans, wanting to establish a settled Christian life in the sight of God, were all in agreement about one thing only, that the theatre must be got rid of. And they were not mistaken. They knew that the foundations lay in what the Marxists think of as superstructure. (The Marxists failed to notice that Lenin said he would take the superstructure as base.)

Everything begins with and follows from imagination. It is the forms of social imagination which determine how a society will conduct itself. The Puritans wanted to form the social imagination of England, Scotland and Ireland on the word of God. If they had succeeded in establishing a stable theocracy, the history of these islands, and of that part of the world influenced by them, would have been very different. But they failed, and the theatre, with its very different effect on life, came back with a vengeance.

In the concluding part, I shall attempt to show how Anglo-Saxon society which abolished the theatre 350 years ago, became the society which depends on the theatre more than any other.

Part One:—A Wanton Dissipation Of Spirit.

Part Two:—Whores, Adulterers And Fornicators.

Part Three:—Hollywood And Humanism—Cars And Courtesans.

Part Four:—Sweeney Among The Fifth Monarchy Men.

Part Five:—Of Prods & Gods & Dancing Girls; Of Censorship & Things.

Part Six:—Theatre & Life; Part One.

Part Seven:—Theatre & Life; Part Two.

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